For the first time in the county, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office invoked a civil nuisance abatement law to evict a homeowner from a homesteaded property that had been used “to facilitate criminal activity,” including drug use and sales, according to the judge’s order granting the eviction.
Florida law bars the seizure of homesteaded properties. But the unusual legal maneuver, crafted by the sheriff’s attorney, John Lemaster, and granted by Senior Judge Richard Orfinger, enabled what amounts to a similar result: the homeowner, John S. Driggers, is permanently enjoined from occupying the property, as are four family members and others accused of engaging in criminal activities there: Cody Driggers, Cheyenne Donaldson, James Donaldson and Haley Scott.
Orfinger, a senior judge on the Fifth District Court of Appeal, where he’s served since 2000, and was a circuit judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which includes Flagler, for a decade before that. He is one of the district’s sharper legal minds, giving solid legal cover for the sheriff’s novel approach.
The property is a nearly 50-year-old, 1,500 square foot mobile home at 2345 Blueberry Street in Daytona North, also known as the Mondex. Driggers took ownership in 2018. The only way he can maintain its homestead status is by having a dependent live there. But since he is permanently barred from re-occupying the property, it is as good as lost to him.
Sheriff Rick Staly, appearing in a video recorded in front of a large sign planted in front of the home and bearing the mug shots of all five occupants, said it may be for sale. John Driggers is allowed on the property as long as he is with a licensed real estate agent and only to conduct business leading to a sale of the property. He must first give Lemaster three days’ notice, and identify the agent. Obviously, he may not lease or rent the property to anyone engaged in similar activities.
Driggers and the four others were given seven days from Jan. 9 to vacate the home, and pay the sheriff $450 to defray the costs of the action.
“The Property and the Defendants continue to be a nuisance to the community and residents of Flagler County,” Orfinger wrote in his Jan. 9 order. “Since 2017, illegal activity at the Property has led to sixteen (16) arrests, resulting in twelve (12) pleas/convictions, and four (4) pending criminal actions. The illegal activity has involved the named Defendants and others residing at or invited to the Property. The illegal activity at the Property diverts significant public safety resources to the Property and Defendants to the
detriment of the general public.”
Orfinger gave Staly permission to do what the sheriff usually does unilaterally, in criminal raids, when he “closes” what he calls drug houses around the county and in Palm Coast: to post a sign in front of the house, though the judge specified that the sign is to list the named individuals and state that they are permanently barred from entering the mobile home.
The very large sign–as large as the sign that once announced the coming Sheriff’s Operations Center on Commerce Boulevard–abides by the judge’s direction, listing the five individuals (with their pictures) and outlining the injunction’s purpose.
The decision to go the civil route does not appear to be a publicity stunt but a genuine effort to end what had been a recurring drain on sheriff’s resources at one of the most active police destinations in the county: court papers include a long list of deputies’ calls to the address since 2021. Causes include civil disturbances, warrant services, narcotics, weapons complaints, verbal disturbances, suspicious incidents, 911 investigations, overdoses, and numerous security checks.
It was not a hurried job, nor an inexpensive one (the $450 hardly covers the expenses), but a significantly laborious one: the Sheriff’s Office filed suit last June 6. It’s taken that long for the case to culminate in the injunction. The suit cited John Driggers’s 11 felony charges and 17 misdemeanor charges (he’s been convicted on 11 misdemeanor charges, with adjudication withheld on three felonies), with similar, if slightly lesser, rap sheets for the others.
Driggers was served with civil notices to abate (or address) the nuisances at the property, but ignored them, according to the complaint. The case was headed for trial. But Driggers never responded, leaving the judge no choice but to grant the order of a permanent injunction, since Driggers did not contest the complaint.
“Why did we do this? Well, we’ve been here over 100 times, drug calls, medical calls, multiple arrests for drug dealings,” Staly said in his video message as he stood with the sign behind him and three deputies flanking him. “I’m at 2345 Blueberry, and if you ever see any of these people on this property, call us.” He said two of the five individuals are already at the local jail, including John Driggers–on a misdemeanor violation of a pretrial release agreement going back to a felony drug charge–and James Donaldson, who is serving a 270-day sentence for violating his probation, also on drug charges.
The others, Cody Driggers, Cheyenne Donaldson and Scott all have lengthy histories at the jail.
It’s not quite the first time that a homesteaded property owner in the county has been barred from occupying his home. In slightly different–more directly criminal–circumstances, Jamal Nejame‘s two-year probation’s conditions included a prohibition on occupying his Bressler Lane home. He was convicted on a charge of improper exhibition of a weapon and firing a gun in public, got two years’ probation, then violated his probation by going to the house to tend it. He is currently serving a year’s jail sentence for that violation. He still owns the house, and pays no taxes on it.
“It’s the first time it’s been done in Flagler County in the history of the sheriff’s office,” Staly said, “but when they wouldn’t change their ways, and they continued to be a nuisance to this community, our General Counsel and I came up with a new tactic.” The sheriff promised other “poison peddlers” that they can no longer use homestead exemptions to shield their properties or themselves from the law, “because we have figured out a way to get you the hell out of that house anyways and out of the neighborhood. So test us. These people did. In fact, their comment was: they never thought this day would happen. Well, here we are. Goodbye.”